What I Did Last Summer
Sometimes it’s all about juxtapositions.
I was sitting on the courthouse steps the other day, musing on the three tractor trailer trucks parked in front. Big signs on them read, “Twentieth Century Fox.” Our region has apparently become a go-to place for filming with the new Superman movie being filmed about twenty miles south of here, a race car movie starring Dennis Quaid and Zack Efron being filmed about ten miles south of here, and then this one at the courthouse: an episode of the new TV series, “The Playboy Club.”
It was about six-thirty in the morning and the lawn was full of basket cranes with huge lights and a litter of electronic debris and cables all over the place. Very impressive, I thought, and very expensive.
Then I got the call.
It was my wife. She said her mother’s retirement home had called and said her mother had been unresponsive for her wake-up and so, fearing a stroke, they’d taken her to the hospital. By the time I got home my wife was dressed and ready to go. The hospital is not far and we were there in just a few minutes time.
For people of a certain age, by the way, this experience is not at all unusual, including the oddly-timed call.
I spent much of that medically-oriented day remembering that early morning scene at the courthouse and thinking about how quickly we go from fantasy to reality. From seeing myself schlepping down those steps all glorious and victorious (To Kill A Mockingbird came to mind), I found myself in an emergency room wondering if we’d remembered my mother-in-law’s Medicare card.
Given, too, that I’d just spent the past eight weeks helping my wife recover from back surgery I began to have a distinct preference for the fantasy.
It has been an odd medical summer. Along with my wife, we suffered a bad shoulder tear in a nephew that required extensive surgery to repair, the husband of a friend enduring prostate surgery, another friend breaking a leg, and yet another friend undergoing a mastectomy (a favorable prognosis, so far, the result.).
Hopes kept being raised, lowered, then raised again. It seemed like everyone we knew was undergoing lab tests, X-rays, CT scans, MRI’s – things scheduled, then completed, then the agonizing wait for results.
Loved ones and friends quickly become a part of these scenes, and of course everyone knows someone who knows someone who underwent …, who had the same …, who is now …, and so on. Most of the time those little stories are meant to buck up the afflicted, except that they almost always seem to have some kind of cranky ending. I have never, too, heard of someone speak of their surgeon without saying, “they say he’s one of the best in the country.”
My wife’s surgeon is one of the best in the country.
Anyway, my own experience this summer was mixed. Hospitals no longer look quite so much like the hospitals of my youth. Someone has let a decorator in the door. Rooms tend to look a bit homey. Lobbies with their snack bars and gift shops and ever-attentive volunteers make you feel more like you’re entering a mall than a hospital. A lullaby is played on the P.A. system when a baby is born. Nice touch.
My favorite sign in one area was this one: If you’ve waited more than twenty minutes, please see the manager.
Hospitals, of course, are large and highly complex places with a hugely varied menu of staff. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to know the specific function of someone you’re dealing with. Name badges help, but at one point I assumed that people wearing scrubs were either doctors or nurses – until I got out of the way of a cleaning lady pushing her cart and wearing scrubs. Another time I was impressed by what looked like a surgical team wearing bright maroon scrubs, until I found out they were nursing students from a nearby community college.
I don’t know that nurses need to bring back the starched cap and white dress (awkward for male nurses), but I do find those pajama tops with cuddly animals on them that so many of them wear highly annoying. I feel uncomfortable having someone who looks like they just got out of bed checking the painkiller drip on my loved one’s machine.
Yes, I know about the threats of MRSA and other infectious agents, but it really seems a bit dehumanizing that absolutely no one will touch your ailing loved one without putting rubber gloves on.
Surprisingly (is nothing sacred?) the food in hospitals isn’t all that bad. For the visitor the cafeterias are set up almost like mall food courts with various choices from dinner entrees to pizza to salad bars. For the patient, the food is virtually on-demand: you select from a menu consistent with your ailment, call in your choice, and the food is delivered to your room a short time later.
One thing that puzzled me about hospitals is doctors. With the exception of my wife’s surgeon, I don’t think I ever actually saw one (well, there was that one distinguished-looking man standing in a nurse’s station eating a cup of noodles – he turned out to be a nurse). I think what happens is that hospitals advertise every physician who is permitted to practice in a given hospital and make it seem as though they are all staff doctors and that the place is crawling with physicians. The reality is that most of them are back in their offices and clinics and only show up to see specific patients (often at very strange hours).
Truthfully, I have no serious complaints about my immersion in the medical world this summer. Generally, care is required; care is given. Courtesy seems to be a staff mandate and is frequently expressed.
And, yes, as you may have noticed, I’ve said nothing about the expenses. That’s a whole ‘nother rant, er, essay.
By the way, my mother-in-law pulled out of her crisis, and the TV people moved on to their next venue.
Causes G.K. Wuori Supports
American Civil Liberties Union, The Authors Guild, Finnish North American Literature Association